Trinity 24| Matthew 9:18-26| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| November 14, 2021
Our Gospel lesson for today teaches us three things about saving faith.
First, saving faith trusts in Christ Jesus alone. Faith is often generalized as a belief, hope, or trust that is in a person. But what that person believes, hopes, or trusts in is often ignored. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Mormons, and Christians are frequently grouped together as “people of faith.” People commonly take great pride in their faith, as if it is a quality in their heart, that they will persevere and not give up. They will hope against hope. But faith does you no good if it does not trust, hope, and believe in Jesus Christ. Unless your hope is in Christ Jesus alone, then your faith is not saving faith.
The woman with the flow of blood for twelve years believed, trusted, and hoped in Jesus. This is why Jesus said, “Take heart, daughter, your faith has made you well.” The woman clearly had faith in others before this. St. Mark’s and St. Luke’s Gospels also tell this story with additional details. They tell us that the woman had suffered much from other physicians seeking a cure, even spent all her money on these physicians. But the doctors were not able to heal her. This woman must have had faith in these doctors. She must have hoped in them and trusted in them, otherwise she would not have spent all her livelihood on their treatments. But their treatments failed. Her faith was wrongly placed. It was only when she placed her faith in Christ that her illness was taken away.
Everyone has faith in something. Some trust in some false deity. Others trust in science. And others trust in money, power, and even themselves. These are all false faiths. Money fails. Human power is a façade. Science is limited by our finite minds and propensity toward error. And trusting in yourself above all else is delusional. Christ alone offers forgiveness, life, and salvation. The woman had heard Jesus’ preaching of love and forgiveness. She knew that he displayed the love of God. She knew he was able to heal her, because he had healed so many others before her. Her faith led her to reach out to Jesus. And her faith saved her.
We learn from St. Mark and St. Luke that the name of this ruler with a dead daughter was Jairus. In Mark’s and Luke’s account, Jairus does not tell Jesus that his daughter is dead, but that she is near death. It isn’t until after Jesus begins to follow Jairus that a messenger arrives to report that his daughter had already died, so don’t trouble the teacher anymore. Yet Jesus, hearing this, responds, “Do not be afraid. Only believe and your daughter will be well.” St. Matthew condenses this story, and only tells us that Jairus told Jesus that his daughter had just died, and confessed that that if Jesus only laid his hands on her, she would live. Here, Matthew gives us Jairus’s response to Jesus’ words, “Only believe.” Jairus believes Jesus’ words that his daughter will rise again. He tells Jesus only to lay his hands on her, and she will live. This is what saving faith does. It does not obey the messenger who says that his daughter is dead, so stop bothering Jesus. Faith clings to Jesus’ words and trusts that he has power even over death.
Second, this Gospel lesson teaches us that through faith, Christ receives us as we are. The woman with the discharge of blood would have been ceremonially unclean. This means that she was not only sick for many years, with great discomfort and anxiety over her own life, but she was excluded from corporate worship. She could not eat the Passover or partake in any sacrifice. Anyone she touched would be unclean. Her condition made her unacceptable. Yet, Jesus accepts her. Jesus does not rebuke her for touching his cloak while she was unclean. He tells her to take heart, and that her faith has saved her.
This teaches us something very important about saving faith. Faith is not something you acquire after preparing yourself. If you had to prepare yourself to be accepted by Jesus, you would never be accepted. You could never trust that you had done enough to come before God’s presence. Yet, saving faith does not tell you to wait until you are worthy to come to Jesus for healing. Saving faith draws you to ask Jesus for forgiveness and salvation while you are a sinner, when you are unclean and unworthy. The woman was unworthy, but through faith in Christ, she was received as she was. This is because Jesus accepts unclean people, tax-collectors, sinners, adulterers, Samaritan women and Gentiles. Through faith alone, Jesus receives them as his own.
Yet, there is a difference between Jesus accepting you as you are and Jesus affirming you in how you are. Some emphasize that Jesus accepts us as we are, but they take this to mean that Jesus leaves us as we are, that he does not change us. But that is not true. Jesus indeed receives sinners, adulterers, slanderers, murderers, thieves, homosexuals, liars, revilers, and every type of sinner there is. But Jesus does not affirm them in their sins or encourage them to stay in their sin. Rather, Jesus tells sinners to repent and sin no more. Jesus forgives our sins, and changes our hearts, so that we fall away from our sins and grow closer to him. Jesus loves us as we are, as dirty, unclean sinners. But he does not leave us as we are. Jesus washes us clean of our sins, sanctifies us, and strengthens us through the Holy Spirit and by his holy Word, so that we grow in mature faith and produce good works.
The woman suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years. Mark and Luke tell us that the little girl was twelve years old when she died. This indicates that our whole lives we are victims of death. From the moment of our conception, we live under the tyranny of death. We are incapable of healing ourselves or preventing our own deaths. This is because we are corrupted by sin, and we cannot forgive ourselves or remove our sin from us. Yet, Jesus accepts us as we are. He receives us in our uncleanness. Saving faith depends on this, because saving faith does not depend on your ability to restore yourself, but Christ’s ability and willingness to restore you to perfect health, righteousness, and life.
Third, this Gospel lesson teaches us that through saving faith, we do not call things as we see them, but we call them as Jesus calls them. Jairus arrived at his home to the commotion of wailing and dirges being played on flutes. His own wife’s bawling was likely drowned out by the cacophony of the crowd, so that he could only focus on the anguish in her face as tears flooded out of her eyes and grief distorted her otherwise lovely face. He was told not to bring Jesus. It was too late. He then hears Jesus say to the crowd, “Go away. The little girl is not dead, but only sleeping.” The crowd laughed Jesus to scorn. They thought he was crazy. They themselves had seen the girl’s corpse. How could this man, who just arrived assert that the girl was only asleep? But Jairus consented to Jesus driving these mourners away. He trusted in Jesus. Jairus did not believe the report of the eye witnesses that said that his daughter was dead. He did not believe the tears of his dear wife. He didn’t even believe his own eyes as he looked upon the lifeless corpse of his little daughter on her bed. Jairus did not believe what he saw, but he believed what Jesus said. His sweet little girl was only sleeping. She was taking a nap. Jesus had come to waken her. This is what Jesus said, so he believed it.
This is what saving faith does. Everyone can see that water is plain water, and while it is very useful for washing off dirt and quenching bodily thirst, it cannot be used to remove sins and give eternal life. Yet, Jesus says that whoever believes and is Baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16). Jesus sanctified his Church by washing her with water and the word (Ephesians 5:26). Baptism saves by appealing to God for a good conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21). So, we listen to Jesus and do not call Baptism just plain water, but a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, which works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe.
Anyone can plainly see that bread and wine are just bread and wine, which give limited nutrients to the body and are expelled. Yet, our Lord Jesus says, “This is my body; This is my blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” So, we believe that the bread and wine our eyes see are Jesus’ true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Who doesn’t know that a man is just a man, and that a man cannot forgive your sins before God or grant you everlasting life? Yet, Jesus says to his Church, “Whosoever sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Whosoever sins you retain, they are retained.” (John 20:23) So, we trust that the absolution spoken by the pastor is a voice from heaven, declaring pardon of sins and eternal life.
This is what saving faith does. It trusts in what Jesus says even above what we see for ourselves. We see that we are dying. We see that we are sinners. We see our loved ones dead and buried. But in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we hear that though we die, we will live; that though our sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. And our loved ones who have died in Christ are only sleeping, waiting to be raised.
I cannot fathom a more dreaded sight than the death of one of my children. That is a parent’s worst nightmare. I acknowledge that I will someday endure the death of my parents, and perhaps even the death of my wife, but God forbid my eyes ever behold the death of one of my children. Yet, children do die. Even if we outlive them, they still die eventually. How I wish that we were as fortunate as Jairus, that we could simply walk over to a man and ask him to lay his hand on our child, and know that the child would live, even if she has already died! How fortunate Jairus was. How fortunate that woman with the discharge of blood! Even now at a time of medical advancement beyond any in history, it doesn’t compare to the power of Jesus to heal any disease and even to raise the dead.
Yet, we are so fortunate. We do have Him to Whom we may bring our children, and they will live. Today, we have Him, who lays his hands on our children, so that even if they die, their death is but a nap, a peaceful sleep waiting for the resurrection to eternal life. We have Jesus today in his Word and Sacraments! Parents have no greater duty and joy than to bring their children to Jesus; to teach the Gospel at home and to bring their children to church; to be the baptized, to prepare them for the Sacrament, and bring them to hear Jesus’ preaching. These are the words of eternal life. These are Jesus’ words, which turn death into sleep.
Only an abusive parent would purposefully neglect to give his child food, water, and clothing. A loving parent will search diligently for a cure if his child is sick. Here we have food that does not perish, but gives everlasting life; clothing that covers even the stain of sin; medicine that makes one live forever. May God grant all parents the faith of Jairus, that they may bring their children to Jesus, so that they may overcome death forever.